In the late 2000s, Raj Bhakta purchased a failed dairy farm in rural Vermont without a shadow of an idea of what to do with it. Situated near Lake Champlain in Shoreham, Vermont, the farm is a sprawling 1300 acres.
“After a few long winters and exhaustive research on the various spirits categories, I set my sights on whiskey,” says Bhakta, founder and CEO of WhistlePig. “All indicators pointed to rye whiskey as the category with the greatest potential to not only enter, but to lead.”
He took his newly acquired farm asset and partnered with Dave Pickerell, one of the most renowned distillers in the US. It was then that he began his literal spirit quest with a goal of creating the greatest whiskey company America has ever seen.
Bhakta, well-known as the popular, bow-tie wearing contestant on the second season of NBC’s The Apprentice as well as his 2006 Congressional campaign, doesn’t have a particularly long history in the spirits industry. He did, however, spend many an evening imbibing whiskey. “I can’t emphasize how long Vermont winters can be.”
The newest offering from WhistlePig is a straight rye whiskey called Boss Hog: Spirit of Mortimer. “When I began this tireless endeavor to build a whiskey titan from a failed farm, it was with the sole companionship of my trusty pet pigs, Mortimer and Mauve,” says Bhakta. Mortimer become the face of the brand, and after four years of building the company alongside of Bhakta, he passed away defending the honor of his partner Mauve against the advances of younger, more vigorous pigs.
“We determined the best way to honor Mortimer and his contributions would be to memorialize him atop the bottles of our very best whiskey released to date.” After a phone call with the local pewtersmith, they had the beginning of what would become the pewter likeness of the beloved mascot set to adorn the bottles.
A Family of Pewterers
Fred and Judi Danforth founded Danforth Pewterers in a barn in Woodstock, Vermont in 1975. The family history of pewter working dates all the way back to the early 1700’s. Currently, all the pewter work is done in their Middlebury, Vermont workshop. Bhakta knew that the Danforth’s were the perfect people to task with creating a bottle for his rye.
The bottle is but a part of the entire package. Bhakta wanted to make sure it matched the world class quality of the whiskey in it. As such, we went for a distinctive bottle shape, a custom mold, and a prominent face to set our bottle apart from the rest.
If Mortimer had been a person
Bhakta believes that he would be an elegant, soft-spoken gentleman. “If he did speak it was with authority and conviction – much in the likeness of a great British leader and my personal idol, Winston Churchill.” The more energetic, boisterous one was always Muave. When Mortimer was just a piglet and the whiskey company was on the cusp of opening, he somehow escaped his pen and wandered off into the woods. “I searched and searched and couldn’t find him for the life of me.”
It didn’t take him long to realize that losing the face of the company to the unforgiving elements of the rural Vermont wildnerness before the company finished taking shape was probably not the best omen. “I put out a full APB to the town of Shoreham, conscripted friends and neighbors, and patrolled the neighboring woods for a couple of days to no avail.” With hope all but lost, three days later, Mortimer finally appeared after his romp in the woods. He emerged a few miles away, bloody and bruise, but otherwise fully intact. “I can’t say what he experienced out there, nor speak to how he survived, but I recognized if he could survive that ordeal as a piglet, then far be it for me to fall short in creating this company.”
The Whiskey itself
The liquid is a 100 percent rye whiskey that is bottled at full cask strength at between 117 and 124 proof. “The [original] Boss Hog was a huge success for us last year,” says Bhakta. A huge success is kind of an understatement. Boss Hog was a Double Gold Medal winner at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. “We didn’t want to simply reissue that edition for 2014, so we seized the opportunity to pay tribute to our beloved Mortimer in the most fitting way possible – by debuting our richest offering yet.”
Aged for almost fourteen years, only the highest quality casks eligible for the Boss Hog: Spirit of Mortimer. Fifty barrels were hand-picked by Pickerell for the extremely exclusive release. “The taste signature stays in-line with the high standard set by past releases,” says Pickerell. “It maintains WhistlePig’s familiar deep amber color and rich notes of caramel, vanilla and oak, with undertones of mint and winter fruit, making for a warm, bold taste.”
Pickerell spent more than a year searching the globe for the perfect, high quality old-stock rye whiskey. He found the perfect casks in the valleys of the Canadian Rockies in order to create the perfect flavor worthy of the late Mortimer.
The whiskey has received many accolades from whiskey critics, including being Wine Enthusiast’s highest rated rye whiskey ever as well as being added to to Wall Street Journal’s Top Five Whiskies of 2010.
What else is currently being produced by WhistlePig?
“We have a fully diversified, functioning farm complete with 200+ acres of planted rye, horses, sheep, goats, pigs, and a twenty acre maple tree stand tapped for sugar.” They age and bottle the whiskey on the farm and on July 4th, 2015 will cut the ribbon to a custom still, which will be used to distill the grain on the farm into the one of the first single-estate straight rye whiskeys since Prohibition. “If you haven’t tried our whiskey yet, try it! It really is the best rye whiskey on earth.”
Image Credit: WhistlePigWhiskey.com